Open Source

Jim Jagielski: Open source pendulum will swing back towards community

It’s a poorly coordinated dive that sees Jim Jagielski and I both make a swipe for the same tiny fly irritatingly circling the top of my notebook. Jagielski looks embarrassed. I let out an odd squeak. This is yet another collaborative moment at last week’s at ApacheCon Europe in Seville, where I’m talking to the ASF founder member about the future of open source. 

Like Linux itself, Apache is one of the great forefathers of the open source movement. It is the community behind both the HTTP Server project – and the thus the internet. And Hadoop – which has led much of the march towards big data.

“What’s very interesting now is that years ago you had to explain what open source was,” says Jagielski. “That’s certainly not the case anymore.

“We never thought it would catch on as quickly or as deeply as it has,” he adds. “People who loved open source thought it had the potential to change the world – much of a cliché as that it – but never thought it would be realised.”

In fact, these days every corporate entity – and his wife – is keen to stress its involvement with open source. All enterprise software is heading in this direction, one way or another, but in a lot of ways the flavour has changed and Apache is definitely part of the less commercial old guard. It has always attracted very loyal fans. Yet it is a sprawling community – with divisions – and this event barely has a few hundred attendees while some of the conferences for individual projects, like Hadoop, can attract thousands.

Fundamentally, this will always be the problem with any community effort. It will naturally have its zealots and its splinter groups. And this may be why open source itself has seen so many changes over the last few decades. There now appear to be two distinct camps.

In October I attended the OpenStack summit in Barcelona and it is impossible not to make comparisons. This was the corporate end of open source. It featured reams of different vendors and a vast exhibition floor. I received dozens of PR pitches, there was journalistic schmoozing aplenty and although the community was very active and enthusiastic, as one delegate pointed out it is rare to see individuals in there who are not affiliated with an organisation.

The vibe in Seville was very different. The emphasis is less on showmanship and more about technology. It includes a vast range of collaborative and in-depth sessions with individuals pitching a range of ideas as well as expert insight into how existing technology works.

“I think Apache has found a way of balancing corporate with community,” suggests Jagielski. “The company a developer [in the community] works for doesn’t matter.” Perhaps they move jobs and become a manager, rather than a developer, but they keep on contributing because that’s still important to them as individuals.  

Jagielski subscribes to the idea of the developer as an artist who is driven to create code. This is supported by Stack Overflow’s 2016 Developer Hiring Landscape report [gated] which surveyed 50,000 developers and calculated that 83.24% spend at least an hour a week coding for fun outside their regular job.

“There are different classes of developers,” suggests Jagielski. He believes, like painters, many are driven to write code but they also earn a pay check from it. This ties in with Jagielski’s belief in the wider community as a whole. 

“I think we’re going to see the [open source] pendulum swing back on the real, true community,” he says. Some communities are becoming too commercial. “You see some which are controlled by a single entity,” he says.

He believes the emphasis will eventually have to go back to individual contributors because corporate focused entities are not sustainable in the long run. “There is nothing wrong with being paid for doing what you love but if that’s the only reason it’s non-sustainable,” he says.

He adds that for some of these more corporate driven open source projects “nobody is using them apart from people that pay”. However he does believe the pendulum may swing further towards commercial interests before it swings back to community.

Jagielski feels strongly that this community spirit is the key to ASF’s success. He is keen to highlight that unlike most other open source communities Apache is classified [in the US] as 501(c)(3), a public charity, rather than 501(c)(6), a business league. This general move amongst other foundations “is something that does concern me and does concern others,” he says.

There is no clear cut answer to what the future of open source is – but with Linux turning 25 this year – it is interesting to speculate where open source likely to be by 2041? Jagielski believes the emphasis will be on security. Linux was always focused on servers and it was always very easy to secure these in the past. However, “now there is a tonne of software that never gets updated,” he says. With the Internet of things emerging keeping everything up to date will become even more important.

In more specific terms Jagielski highlights that innersourcing is coming to the forefront right now. This is where large corporate entities use open source principles in a closed environment. “Some people think it is the long tail of open source,” he says.

Now people understand the benefits of open source this is the next level, he explains. “You can use these techniques in an enterprise environment,” he says which allows businesses to benefit from open source processes as well as the software itself. “I don’t think anyone ever envisaged that.”

At present the open source movement seems to be at something of a crossroads. On the one hand it has been partially hijacked by big business while organisations like Apache represent a bastion of the old, resolutely non-commercial, thinking. Like most things this has its benefits but also downsides like less cohesive marketing and an easily fractured community.

Jagielski is appears acutely aware of these issues, but stands firm in the thinking that his seen the organisation thrive over several decades. “It is about people working on passion… that needs to be at the heart and centre of every software project,” he says.


Also read:
Apache stresses ‘old fashioned’ community at the heart of growth
OpenStack: What does it reveal about the future of open source?
Massive growth market for open source phenomenon OpenStack
This month in tech history: August – Linux created
Linux at 25 is no longer a cancer or scare story
What will Linux and open source look like in 2041?
David Bryant: Mozilla and the age of the tinkerer
Developers: Stupidly committed, God-like power… still bizarrely overlooked
Grassroots Programmers: Love vs. Money
“Grassroots Programmer” Viewpoint Q&A: PhD Student
"Grassroots Programmer” Viewpoint Q&A: 50-Year Career


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